All 1 entries tagged Root Cause Analysis

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October 24, 2012

N levels of 'Why?'

In organisational behaviour studies the case analysis approach is often used to assess problems that organisations face. This approach typically breaks the assessment into a problem description, analysis of the causes, a recommended solution and some alternative solutions. Multiple perspectives, organisational behaviour tools or varying frames of reference are used to try and identify as many of the likely causes as possible. It is this activity that relates closely to root cause analysis (RCA).

RCA is a technique used in various industries, from IT administration troubleshooting to identifying reasons for breakdowns on a washing powder production line.

The idea of RCA is very straight-forward - just keep asking why. For example, in the washing powder production line scenario:

  • Why is the breakdown taking place?

Because boxes on the production line are getting stuck.

  • Why are they getting stuck?

Because some of the boxes are getting too much glue and it is seeping down the side of the boxes.

  • Why are the boxes getting too much glue?

You get the idea.

Although the concept is simple, it is rarely executed in full. Organisations face problems daily that seem miniscule or that appear to have a very simple solution. In many cases, only one or two levels of why are being explored. In this situation you are more likely treating the symptom and not treating the cause. The problem will only surface again in the future.

How many levels of why are enough?

How many levels would it take to find out that an ingredient in the glue mixture caused lumps in the hot glue, which caused blockage and irregular flow to the glueing station on the washing powder production line?

In some situations experience will compensate for the addition levels. If the box breakdown happened again we would know where to look first. This may increase efficiency in troubleshooting but is this the only likely cause? If we don't conduct thorough RCA we may have overlooked other potential causes. For example, one alternative reason for the breakdowns could be that completed boxes were not being cleared at a suitable rate. Performing several levels of why in this case may lead you down a completely different path - to realise that your logistics department is having issues with overutilisation of delivery trucks that should be collecting these boxes.

How many levels of why are enough? The key is to not have an upper limit. Keep asking. Once RCA helps you to solve the problems it will then lead you to the next phase, which is continuous improvement. Fix issues first and then look to optimise the way you work. As in organisational behaviour studies, the same problem investigated at two different points in time can have very different outcomes.

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